Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Hobbit: Graphic Novel Edition - Painting There and Back Again

When J R R Tolkien first imagined Bilbo Baggins, little did he realize what a huHobbit Three-Volumege franchise would grow from this little fellow. Editions of The Hobbit are available from the cheapest paperback, to an exquisite leather deluxe edition. It is even available in a comic book!

In 1989 and 1990, this graphic novel version was published by Eclipse Books in three parts. The illustrator was David Wenzel, and the story was adapted by Charles Dixon and lettered by Sean Deming. In 1990, a combined edition was published by Ballantine Books in the United Hobbit Graphic NovelStates, and Uniwin Paperbacks in the UK. In 2001, the Ballantine label Del Rey edition was first published with, inexplicably, a cover with artwork by Donato Giancola, who also did the artwork for the dust jackets on the Science Fiction Book Club editons of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In 2006, HarperCollins published a revised version with added material. This version is not available in the United States.

The Hobbit was not new to Wenzel. In 1977 Centaur Books had published Middle Earth: The World of Tolkien Illustrated, which was basically a series of paintings depicting scenes from The Hobbit with a brief summary of each scene by Lin Carter. By comparison, the artwork for the older book was not nearly as rich, and it is well that that early publication was supplanted by the graphic novel.

Charles Dixon stayed very true to the book, incorporating every important plot twist, which should delight Tolkien purists. Tolkien's narrative voice is missed when Dixon has to edit for space, but the overall vision is not missed. This is a huge improvement over the 1977 Rankin/Bass film version.

The artwork is also a dramatic improvement. No "Disney-fied" dwarfes or amphibian-looking Wood Elves like in the animated movie. Wenzel captures the splendor of Middle Earth with plenty of detail and vivid colors.

If your children (or you) are into comic books, this might be just the trick to get them "into" Middle Earth without losing much of Tolkien's magic or his moral compass. Bilbo certainly is not perfect. But his down-to-earth insights ("as my father used to say...") and courage in spite of himself are characteristics that we can emulate today.

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